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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

U.S. Makes no Progress in China on International Disputes

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who met today with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other Chinese top officials, made no progress on international disputes involving the South China Sea, Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Another session with Hu’s successor, Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping, was canceled. Yesterday China warned Clinton against bringing up the South Sea row, and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi reiterated today that China has sovereignty over that area, including the island chains of the Paracels and the Spratlys, a claim that is disputed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia. Clinton also failed to convince the Chinese authorities to moderate their support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been brutally fighting rebels in a civil war that has claimed around 20,000 lives since March 2011. China’s government may have been distracted by the indictment of Wang Lijun, the former police chief of deposed politicians Bo Xilai in a scandal that embarrassed the country’s top leaders.

Greece Must Create Six-Day Week, Lenders Say

Greece should create a six-day week for workers, according to a leaked letter sent to the government by the “troika,” as the nation’s three lenders (the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) are known. This is one of the troika’s many recommendations to reform the labor market, a task made difficult by the fact that Greek unions are standing in opposition to more work flexibility. Greece must endeavor to deregulate its job market by extending working hours, setting a minimum wage as a way to discourage workers from staying unemployed, and lowering welfare charges for employers. Greece’s progress in applying austerity measures and cleaning up its finances has been intensely scrutinized. The troika’s evaluation next month will be decisive as Greece is due to receive the next chunk of its bailout tranche (more than €30 billion, or $38 billion) in exchange for an extra €11.6 billion in spending cuts that should’ve been implemented in June. This will weigh heavily on Greece’s ability to stay in the euro.

Northern Irish Government Sets Up Talks to End Sectarian Violence

After three days of violence in Northern Ireland between Irish republicans (mainly Catholics who want Northern Ireland to be a part of Ireland) and loyalists (supporters of the British rule, mostly Protestants), a man who negotiated a ceasefire in 1994 with the Ulster Volunteer Force, a loyalist paramilitary group, was called in to mediate a truce between the rival gangs. Violence erupted over parade routes after a loyalist band marched around a Catholic church singing The Famine Song, an anti-Catholic tune deemed racist by a Scottish court. The country’s leaders, who were slow to react, said talks will be held to resolve the issue before a September 19 parade, which will commemorate the centenary of the Ulster Covenant, a text signed by half a million people that swore to recognize the authority of the British monarch. Northern Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Martin McGuinness called the violence “a terrible display of bigotry and sectarianism.”

Quebec Shooting Derails Victory Night for Separatist Party

A man killed one person and wounded another at a rally held by the Quebec separatist party, after initial election results indicated the Parti Québécois could form a minority government after nine years as the province’s opposition. The two victims had attempted to stop the gunman, who muttered in an English-accented French “the Anglophones are waking up.” Pauline Marois, the party leader, had just started to give her victory speech after months of bitter campaigning over language and cultural issues. Before she was interrupted, she said “the future of Quebec is to become a sovereign country.”

“Junk” DNA Plays Critical Role in Health

DNA that was dismissed as “junk” turned out to be crucial for health, said a group of 440 scientists and 32 institutions around the world. The findings will be published in six different papers in the journal Nature. In a large effort to map what is known as “noncoding” DNA, the researchers discovered that it controls which genes are used in a cell, when they are used, and to which organ that cell belongs. These conclusions bring new insight into illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and depression, but also auto-immune disorders like Crohn’s Disease. The project, called Encode, also opens new avenues of research for treatments. This is the biggest accomplishment in human genome research since the Human Genome Project.

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